We Are Everywhere
Since 2015, Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown have run the Instagram account @lgbt_history, which offers spellbinding photos of our vast LGBT+ past, from protests and parties to riots and balls.
With thousands of unearthed LGBT+ historical artifacts, the massively popular Instagram account does the vital work of making our past accessible to all. Their slogan is: Our Past Becomes Inspiration for a Better Future.
Scouring archives both online and off, Riemer and Brown have unearthed thousands of images that reveal the complex web of connections that tie the LGBT+ communities together, both in the present day and stretching back centuries.
Alongside each picture, they supply a brief caption to provide context that’s often more jaw-dropping than the photo itself. An image of an elderly man staring at the ground turns stunning when the caption reveals that it’s Frank Kameny, who coined the protest phrase “gay is good”, studying the names of friends stitched into the AIDS quilt. A twenty-something man sitting on a dock with friends becomes haunting when the caption reveals that it’s a young Alan Turing, whose engineering prowess helped win World War II.
Riemer and Brown, who are a couple, began the project after realising that they lacked a connection to their past during a ceremony honouring Frank Kameny. Now, they’ve produced a new book, “We Are Everywhere”, that gathers some of their most amazing finds.
Matthew Riemer was interviewed about his work alongside Brown, their mission, and their hopes for the future:
What’s your background with history, particularly queer history?
We were both history majors in undergrad, though neither of us had any interaction with queer history when we were undergrads. I had started to collect buttons in 2013 from queer history, mainly based on aesthetic.
I knew the name Frank Kameny, who’s best known for coining “Gay is Good,” and much much more. We went to the unveiling of Kameny’s headstone in 2015, and it was during that event where activists and historians spoke that Leighton and I both had a moment, an existential crisis where we realised we don’t know shit — anything — about our history.
Stonewall, Harvey Milk, AIDS, and marriage is what we knew, and we didn’t know anything about those things. Without really talking about it, we went off on our own directions. On the Uber ride home Leighton was looking at images, searching Frank Kameny, and seeing images of the homophiles in front of the White House 1965. I started to do more of the reading.
What was it like to find out how much history you’d missed?
It was really sad and scary and discombobulating. It’s something that I think more and more privileged people — and we are privileged — have come to understand, with the sociopolitical realities of the US, that we have been walking around taking history, belonging, and everything for granted. All of a sudden it became clear to us that we don’t have an anchor, and there’s much more to it than what we know.
As underrepresented people, we’re taught never to ask questions. We grow up assuming there isn’t anything. We show up at Pride and then we go home. We wanted to show the connections, that it’s a 24/7 job to be activists.
Where do you find the images that you use?
Everywhere. Leighton started with the ONE Archives, which has done an amazing job of digitising. So has the New York Public Library. I went to seven to ten archives, and I’d go through thousands of negatives and take photos with my iPhone. Very quickly it opens up and it never stops. You start to realise that among libraries and archives, there are a ton that have digitised, but that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.
One of the things that we’ve learned in this project is that history isn’t dead. We would learn these names, and there’d be a picture and there’s a list of names, and we’d go on Facebook and there those people are.
There’s internalised homophobia and modesty that makes those people think, “Who wants to see pictures of me and my friends in a park in 1975?” And the answer is, “We do.” We thought there was a finite number of images to use. But Leighton’s collected about 100,000 images, and we have the rights to maybe five percent.
How do different generations respond to your work?
The younger folks have a recognition of our infinite existence. Our work isn’t a history of queer people, it’s a history of queer activism. We want people to know that the anger and isolation and frustration and joy they feel has always been there. Hopefully that will have somewhat of a humbling effect, and we see that.
On the opposite end, with our elders, there’s a realisation that people know that it mattered. The elders always knew that it mattered, but now they’re getting the credit they know they deserve. In a community that has always prioritised whatever Hollywood star comes out over the front-liners, to be able to have a popular social media platform where at least for a second someone is seeing all these kids freak out about their outfit or their sign from a 1987 protest is gratifying.
So many kids will say, “these people were so badass,” and I’m like, “I tagged them! You can talk to them, you can tell them.”
We try to moderate a conversation in the comment section. Hopefully there’s conversation between generations, a mutual respect. For those willing to engage and listen and be part of this, it’s been incredible.
We take comments very seriously, and learning to listen and learning to understand the perspective of those who feel unincluded. It’s my obligation not to convince people who feel excluded that they’re welcome, but rather to ask, what did I do and what can I do to be more successful in telling history? That doesn’t mean changing history, that just means making sure that the language that I use is respectful of all.
Has this project changed how you see yourselves in relation to the LGBTQ+ community?
I don’t know how we saw ourselves before. I think looking back that I focused more on how I saw myself in the cis-het community than I thought about my relation to the LGBTQ+ community. Meaning, assimilation. I was a gay attorney at a big law firm, and I was on brochures and stuff. I represented diversity.
That was more about existing in space carved out for me both by the work of my elders in the queer community and a little bit of space by the dominant culture. With all my privilege, I wasn’t focused on what I can — and should — do for my community. That’s entirely changed. Today the question I ask myself is, “What are we doing for the community?” The job is not just to exist in the space that others created for us, but to create more space.
And if people try to shout us down, we have the privilege of shouting back.
Living Out Palm Springs to offer LGBT+ seniors a retirement community
For decades, Palm Springs has been a popular retirement destination for well-to-do gay men. The city in the desert might become more attractive as it prepares to welcome Living Out Palm Springs, an upscale resort-style apartment community designed specifically to meet the unique needs of LGBT+ seniors.
A groundbreaking ceremony will take place at the 9-acre development during Palm Springs Pride.
The project was initially scheduled to break ground in early 2020 as a luxury condo retirement community, but then COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it was put on hold.
The developers eventually decided to pivot their business model from luxury condominiums to upscale apartments.
The Coachella Valley’s first and — so far — only LGBT+-centric retirement community, North Palm Springs’ Stonewall Gardens, opened in 2014. The facility’s 24 bungalow-style apartments include an option for 24-hour on-site care.
If residents require it, Living Out Palm Springs will recommend supportive in-home care companies with LGBT+ cultural competency.
LGBT+ seniors don’t have many options for welcoming and inclusive living environments for people 55 and over. LuAnn Boylan, who’s in charge of marketing and sales with Living Out Palm Springs, said: “We hear stories all the time about people who are discriminated against from the senior communities they live in, whether it’s from other residents or from the staff. Sometimes people have to hide photographs in their own homes, photographs of them with their partners, so people don’t know they’re in a same-sex relationship.”
According to SAGE (Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders), when compared to older heterosexual adults, LGBT+ seniors face several challenges:
- Twice as likely to live alone
- Half as likely to have life partners or significant others
- Half as likely to have close relatives to call for help
- Are caregivers for older loved ones, but four times less likely to have children to help them.
Living Out Palm Springs has been created to fight loneliness and increase socialisation among residents. The project will feature numerous amenities:
- Upscale restaurant and piano bar operating
- Private screening room
- Massage studio
- Hair, pedicure, and manicure salon
- Community lounge with coffee bar, prepared food options, yogurt bar, and workspace
- Resort-style swimming pool
- 2 jacuzzi-spa areas
- State-of-the-art fitness centre
- Putting green
- 2 ball courts
- Outdoor BBQ and entertainment areas
- Pet park for large and small dogs adjacent to a full-service pet facility (retail, grooming, boarding, and daycare).
The 122 luxury apartments will range from 1,100 to 1,700 square feet, with every unit containing a large usable balcony or patio.
An official with the project said the rates have not yet been set, but will be comparable to some of the luxury heterosexual communities in the area. That means starting rents could be between $4,500 and $5,000 a month.
Project construction is scheduled to take 18 months with anticipated opening in early 2023.
Do you want an opportunity to create a Greater Manchester that’s better for LGBTQ+ people?
The deadline for applying to join the Greater Manchester LGBTQ+ Advisory Panel has been extended to Tuesday, 7 December 2021.
The Panel is one of seven established by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to tackle inequality and injustice in the region. They aim to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people across the city region by putting LGBTQ+ communities at the heart of decision-making in Greater Manchester.
Join the Panel
LGBT Foundation is currently looking for passionate individuals with links to local LGBTQ+ communities to join the Panel on a voluntary basis. In this role, you will have the opportunity to advocate for LGBTQ+ people across Greater Manchester and influence policy at the highest level. You will also have access to training and development opportunities to ensure you can make the most of the time that you volunteer.
If this sounds like you, visit their website to find out more and apply by Tuesday, 7 December!
They particularly encourage applications from trans and non-binary people; LGBTQ+ women, people of colour (PoC), and disabled people; and others with lived experience of multiple marginalisation to ensure that the Panel is representative of diverse LGBTQ+ communities across Greater Manchester.